Women’s Diaconate, Amazonian ‘Mass’ Discussed in Amazon Synod’s Opening Days

Days 1 and 2 featured interventions from more than 40 participants from around the world.

Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno (L), Moema Maria Marques de Miranda and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz (R) speak at the media conference following the Oct. 8, 2019, session.
Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno (L), Moema Maria Marques de Miranda and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz (R) speak at the media conference following the Oct. 8, 2019, session. (photo: Edward Pentin photo)

VATICAN CITY — A diaconate for women, an experimental liturgical rite and the ordination of married men in remote areas have been some of the suggestions so far discussed at the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon Region, each eliciting a wide range of reactions.

By lunchtime Tuesday, 40 synod fathers and one auditor had spoken on a variety of subjects during the general congregations — sessions held in the morning and afternoon in which each synod participant speaks for a maximum of four minutes.

The speakers have included 15 Brazilian bishops, 12 prelates from other Latin American countries, and synod fathers from the Roman Curia, Canada and Europe.

Among them were Cardinal Michael Czerny, the undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Dicastery for Promotion of Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the prefect of the same dicastery, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the German bishops’ conference.

The special assembly, “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” began Sunday and runs through Oct. 27.

As in previous synods during the pontificate of Pope Francis, the Vatican did not give details on who said what, ostensibly to encourage a freer and less inhibited discussion, although Cardinal Marx was an exception. He published his full text.

According to a Vatican-provided synthesis of interventions, subjects so far discussed have included a reflection on “indigenous rites” of the Sacrifice of the Mass that, it was said, should be looked upon “benevolently” if they are “not linked to superstitions,” and provided they “harmonize with a true liturgical spirit,” a synod father said.

Related to this, and as part of inculturation, it was proposed that “according to the right theological, liturgical and pastoral discernment,” a “Catholic Amazonian rite” should be considered ad experimentum. After all, it was stressed, “just as there is an environmental ecosystem, so there is an ecclesial ecosystem.”

A relatively large number of interventions have been made already on the contentious issue of the ordination of married men “of proven virtue” (viri probati ) to bring the Eucharist to remote Amazonian areas where priests are not present.

One synod father cautioned that while it is a “legitimate necessity,” the situation cannot “condition a substantial rethinking of the nature of the priesthood and its relationship with celibacy.” Instead, the importance of evangelization was stressed, to foster vocations among the young, as a lasting means to fill the priest shortage.

But it was also proposed that in the face of “secularism, religious indifference, the dizzying proliferation of Pentecostal churches,” the Church “must learn to consult and listen more to the voice of the laity.” And in this context, the need to bring the Eucharist to the laity was emphasized, offering “permanent” ministers rather than merely “visiting” ones, and even a “permanent indigenous diaconate.”  

Other synod fathers added their voice in support of viri probati as a solution, the Vatican said, but one opposed it on the grounds that such a proposal “could lead the priest to becoming a mere official of the Mass.” Another said it would be better to stress “greater appreciation” for consecrated life as well as the “strong promotion” of vocations among indigenous communities.

Another participant said the shortage of priests extends well beyond the Amazon to the “whole Catholic world,” and it was pointed out that a “lack of holiness” is an obstacle to evangelical witness.

The Vatican said that, among other proposals, was the “possibility of diaconal ordination for women, so as to enhance their ecclesial vocation.” Another called for “greater involvement of women in the Church.”


Environmental Discussions

Turning to environmental problems in the Amazon region, the detrimental effects of illegal and violent mining activities were mentioned in several speeches, as were human rights issues and other social injustices affecting indigenous people.

In particular, synod participants warned against “predatory extractive models,” deforestation and the challenges of migration that can lead to “unemployment, violence, human trafficking, drug trafficking, prostitution and exploitation.”

A “strong appeal” was made for the Church to make use of her “authoritative voice in the moral and spiritual field” to “always protect life,” denouncing the “many structures of death that threaten it.” The need for “ecological conversion centered on responsibility and integral ecology” was also stressed in the face of environmental degradation, and a call was made for the Church to ally with indigenous populations and “grassroots social movements” to “fight against climate change.”

The importance of young people as protagonists of “integral ecology” was discussed, following on from the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Sixteen-year old Swede Greta Thunberg and her “Climate Strike” protest movement was held up as exemplary. The young feel the need for a new relationship with creation, one that is not predatory, it was said, and the Church should see the environment as a “positive challenge” and an “exhortation to dialogue with young people.”   

In his intervention, Cardinal Marx chose not to focus on priestly celibacy or women deacons, but rather ecology. He said the destruction of the environment contradicts Christian understanding of responsible stewardship of creation, that the world needs to move away quickly from fossil fuels, and that industrialized countries have a particular responsibility to lower greenhouse gas emissions. A holistic ecology and economy are needed, he said, adding: “Everything is connected!”


New Synod Members

On Monday, the synod elected new synod members who will join the Commission for Information, the synodal apparatus that is responsible for communicating about the synod’s proceedings. They included Bishop emeritus Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil, believed to be the chief author of the synod’s hotly debated working document, who has long advocated viri probati and women priests.

Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, the editorial director of La Civiltà Cattolica, a close papal adviser whom the Pope personally appointed to the synod, was also elected.

In comments to reporters Tuesday, Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno, the archbishop of Huancayo, Perú, and vice president of the Pan-Amazon Church Network (REPAM), stressed the vastness of Amazonia. He said the “ancestral wisdom” of the Amazonian peoples “should be recognized” and recalled how during the synod’s preparations, an Amazonian indigenous woman told him that “politicians have no time to listen to us, but Pope Francis, our brother, does.” Cardinal Barreto also spoke of how much he loved the native populations and was “evangelized by them and they continue to evangelize me.”

Moema Maria Marques de Miranda, a Brazilian lay Franciscan and the assessor for REPAM, said we are living in a “unique moment in the history of our planet,” which could possibly be environmentally destroyed soon, and that Pope Francis “perfectly understood this feeling of urgency.” De Miranda also compared Pope Francis, “who came from the end of the world, from outside,” to Thunberg, who she noted has a “form of autism, so she also lies outside this ‘normality.’”

She, too, stressed the interconnectedness of the world, and added that “indigenous people can teach us culture” and how to live correctly with nature as “they learned before we did how to live with the planet.” And she criticized Western society for its model of consumerism, calling for an economy “that respects the environment and ecology.”

Asked what the panel thought of the assertion that some 20 indigenous people are not “pure and without original sin” as some maintain, but continue to practice infanticide, Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, the U.N.’s special relator on the rights of indigenous peoples (and one of two U.N. officials at the synod in addition to former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon), said indigenous societies “are not perfect.” Practices continue that are not coherent with “international human rights standards,” she said, but added that all indigenous peoples have “agreed to change cultures and traditions” and “rectify those practices” to bring them up to those standards.

Cardinal Barreto agreed that “nothing is perfect” among indigenous peoples, so speaking about purity “is not true.” He said he was unaware of 20 indigenous peoples allowing infanticide but said he wanted to see evidence for it, as “it points to savagery.”   


Differences of Opinion

Asked about the differences of opinion in the synod hall, especially over such issues as viri probati, Paolo Ruffini, the president of the Commission for Information, said all synod fathers remarked that a solution must be found to the lack of priests in remote areas, “but not all answers coincide.” He added that the synod is “still at the beginning” and the participants are “trying to interpret” the way forward, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, the secretary of the Commission for Information, said what is “interesting” about the synod is that “everyone can challenge opinions and this makes it richer,” helping to determine the “pathway” to take. There is a need to “ask Our Lord what steps to take,” he said, adding that this is what a synod, which means “walking together,” is about — “not standardizing opinion or sharing the same opinion.”  

Cardinal Barreto said “we mustn’t be worried about different opinions” and referred to the difference St. Peter and St. Paul had over circumcision in Antioch. The synod “is not a parliament,” he said, but a place to “propose suggestions” to the Pope so he can “offer guidance.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Look for his synod commentary on EWTN News Nightly.